Each time I think through the prospects of my wards getting good and quality education in Nigeria, my mind quickly races down to what it would cost me to ensure that they get the best of education. As it is, that is the only thing of value I can bequeath to them. But the cost scares me. While I think of the cost of university education here, especially as it relates to private universities, I also think of what it costs to get the same overseas. People who send their wards overseas for university education pay through the nose to see them through. Those who see theirs through private universities also see red. But isn’t it better to pay more to get qualitative education than pay less and get something that looks like education but isn’t?
As I pondered these realities, I bumped into an online article contained in a book authored in 1903 by Lord Avebury, titled “Peace and Happiness”. In it was a line: “The system is no doubt expensive, but we should not grudge money spent on schools. Ignorance is even more expensive than education; and it would be well if all through life we spent as much on the mind, and as little on the body, as possible.”
Following this in a 1910 report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was a passage that read: “A national programme of education embraces not only the schools, both elementary and secondary, which train for citizenship, but it embraces also the industrial and technical schools, which aim to make each citizen an effective economic unit. Such a complete system of education is expensive, but it is less expensive than ignorance and inefficiency.”
The above helps me to conclude that it is almost impossible to get university education whose tuition is considered cheap. This is why the recent action of Oyo State governor, Engr. Seyi Makinde, in lowering tuition fees at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology worries me. I am worried because, when put against the country’s inflation rate, dwindling public resources and the perennial inability to adequately fund education, I begin to wonder if the decision was geared at improving the quality of teaching and learning at the university. I know that some other state-owned universities may be thinking of increasing tuition fees and may have been held back by Makinde’s action, but the reality of governance in Nigeria differs from state to state. What works in one state may not necessarily work in another.
However, a governor is always caught between balancing appropriate university education funding and making education accessible to even the poorest. I guess this is the dilemma of many governors and public administrators. But again, the reality is that education must not only be qualitative but also accessible. For it to be qualitative, it means the provision of teaching infrastructure including lecture halls and hostels, research laboratories, laboratory equipment, libraries stocked with the latest books, journals and periodical, the provision of teaching aids, the recruitment of qualified teachers and of course, payment of encouraging wages with upgrade and research grants to them. It also must be accessible to the poor.
As I pontificate on these beauties, I also realize that for instance, a state owned university in Nigeria charges about N26, 000 as tuition for students to read medicine. I should rather be worried that my ward is asked to pay N26, 000 as tuition to read medicine in a Nigerian university under current economic realities. My thoughts will race back to what sort of education he will get at such university. I will worry about the facilities available for his development in such university. I do not suggest that university education must be very expensive for it to be qualitative. However, there are sensible reasons many parents now prefer to send their wards to private universities or to universities overseas, in spite of the effect on their pockets.
The question, therefore, for me, is this: Will parents agree to pay as much as they pay abroad and in private universities if public universities get much the same facilities found in many private universities and universities abroad? As I write this, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is nudging, and hinting, about the possibility of another industrial action in continuation of its perennial demand for improved conditions. If, therefore, the conditions for learning and the facilities in our public universities are nothing to celebrate, is lowering tuition fees the appropriate way to make life meaningful for the students and parents. It may not be; neither is increasing tuition the best option. But in situation where resources are scarce and getting scarcer with rising demand for university education, what options are available to administrators?
I am almost in a dilemma. If I send my wards to public universities, I may not be comfortable with the outcome because I have seen many with dilapidated facilities –hostels, toilets, libraries, absence of even computers, crowded lecture halls and classrooms etc. Sometimes, you visit public universities and wonder the sort of characters that are nurtured there. At the same time, you visit many private universities and you feel like going back to school yourself. Many parents come off visits to private universities feeling proud that their wards got admitted for undergraduate studies there. I guess this is a dilemma many parents are also in.
I have a feeling that government is in a fix about how to manage available resources, indigenes desires for cheaper tuition and still deliver quality universities. I guess this is why some state-owned universities operate a dual tuition regime –one for indigenes and another for non-indigenes. This dual tuition regime leaves many feeling cheated and discriminated against. But again, it is a reality that state governments have to live with in order to be seen as offering opportunities for university education to their people. But fact is that university education is not cheap. It has never been cheap and will never be. Education generally is very expensive.
To address this issue, the Federal Government set up the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) in 2011. It was primarily set up to manage, administer and disburse the two percent education tax collected from registered companies in Nigeria as funding support for tertiary educational institutions. Between 2011 and 2021, TETfund has spent trillions of naira as intervention in both tertiary institutions infrastructure and improvement of teacher quality. Yet, the gap is as wide. Even states that had created scholarship boards to assist indigent students feel the heat of lack of adequate funding to address rising needs. So, obviously, it is not likely that my ward and yours will get university education at costs that are considered pocket friendly.
The cost will keep increasing so long as inflation and demands on available resources remain deeply competitive. State governments and owners of private universities will have no option than to flow with the inflationary tide and keep increasing tuition fees as cost of every other thing in the market skyrockets. The defensive maxim will remain that if you say education is expensive, try ignorance. For me, qualitative education comes at a cost. I believe parents are willing to bear this cost, if they get quality in return, because education remains the best gift parents can give to their children.